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Saturday, May 14, 2011


In the 2004 article “Rhetoric and Capitalism: Rhetorical Agency as Communicative Labor” [Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol. 37, No. 3, 2004. ] Ronald Walter Greene outlines a materialist ontology of rhetorical agency. Drawing largely on the works of Hardt and Negri, Greene offers a way out of the forced choice between rhetorical models. Understanding rhetoric as communicative labor affirms “an alternative politics: a common creativity and invention, a productive excess and joy, the material immanence of democracy.” Greene argues that rhetoric is a form of immaterial labor that is productive of value.

Immaterial labor offers an alternative model for rhetorical agency. As a way toward a material ontology of rhetorical agency I would claim that the persuasive, aesthetic, and deliberative characteri stics of communication (elements associated with the information and cultural content of the commodity as well as the social networks of care) reside in the matrix of bio-political production.

The fact that neoliberal governance acts in a totalizing way by focusing on the reproduction of life and knowledge should not make the militant depressed. Greene argues that critical rhetoricians that support more deliberative, political-communicative models burden themselves with a “permanent anxiety over the meaning and potential of rhetorical agency” (188). Rhetoricians become ‘moral entrepreneurs’ (189) scolding each other rather than affirming their common struggle. Instead of constant battle over the proper signification of struggle, eludes this anxiety in favor of the invention of new forms of resistance as a “life-affirming constitutive power that embodies creativity and cooperation.”

Capital’s self-valorization occurs in the process of circulation and the consequent production of surplus-value. Affective energies are the connective tissues that are forge the pathways for creating value. In the essay, “Rhetorical Circulation in Late Capitalism: Neoliberalism and the Overdetermination of Affective Energies” [Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol. 43, No. 1, 2010], Catherine Chaput describes the relationship between rhetoric and economics.

[R]hetoric: its persuasive power can be seen as deriving from the repetition of values added and exchanged through disparate communicative acts. Indeed, I maintain that the economic and rhetorical circulatory processes work in tandem to sustain the vitality of late capitalism in much the same way that the muscular and skeletal systems work together to animate human motion (14).

Rhetoric’s power resides in its ability to produce value which “derives from its circulation of affect, a material energy exchanged within and among the many instances of a sign’s lifespan” (15). Rhetoric as communicative labor exposes the commons between us that constitute the immanence of lived democracy. There is no need to seek validation for rhetorical agency, it exists everywhere in the power to affect and be affected. The role of ‘orator communist’ is to manipulate power relations, block, redirect, stabilize or utilize them in order to seek a new democratic horizon. Recognition of our shared existence on an affective level lets us move beyond the reductive opposition between reason-emotion.

Chaput argues for a shift in rhetorical scholarship from Bitzer’s situated rhetoric to a model of a rhetorical circulation. She argues that the situated model of rhetoric maintains an affective force through its canonization within rhetoric studies that has made people think of rhetorical agents and audiences as discrete.

I believe that the premise of a rhetorical situation to which language responds, although an extremely valuable disciplinary tool, circulates an affectivity that makes rhetoricians less open to the full range of human interconnectivity primarily because it posits effective communication as a bounded practice. The rhetorical situation, that is, makes rhetoricians comfortable within the disciplinary status quo of rhetorical production understood as transpiring within discrete sociohistorical, political, and cultural situations (18).

Because of her historical analysis of the shifts in production in Neoliberal capitalism, rhetorical models must likewise be flexible and able to account for the multiple exigencies that saturate lived experience. Chaput argues that the theory of situatedness has left too many parts of neoliberal capitalism uninterrogated because the cultural forces that sustain the productive apparatuses of capital do not exist in static, fixed locations but always in movement. “[T]he affective energies maintaining contemporary life do not adhere to the boundedness of rhetorical situations; rather, they move across gaps from situation to situation” (19). The shifts in commodity production in Neoliberal capitalism are increasingly defined by fluctuations in immaterial labor. While capital is able to harness and exploit many of these forces by investing itself in a plurality of networked relations, this increasingly forces people into connective, cooperative working environments. The increased force of affective energies within economies is not something that is socially signified, it exists beyond class determinations. In this way the commonwealth is felt and lived in our social interactions universally.

This rhetorical model is based on a total vision of the way that power operates. Biopolitical production is increasingly unable to capture the creative activities of individuals engaged in immaterial production. This characterization points to a larger overall tendency of life to exceed exploitation that authors like Hardt & Negri and Greene see as central to caesura dividing modernity from post-modernity. The forces of production have shifted such that the society of control is not characterized in a vertical, hierarchical relationship between the bourgeoisie and the factory line worker. Today it is the schoolteacher nestled in the suburban district, the manager, the janitor and the nurse. Sociality is increasingly dispersed within network power relations rather than existing in a distinct center. These changes in the division of labor require us to abandon rhetorical models that maintain a strict distinction between the social and the political. And instead opt for rhetorical models that open cultural theory to the circulation that bleeds through the stratified layers that divide the social.

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